Strong alcohol puts hair on your chest. At least, that’s the claim that’s often touted by bearded men in pubs all over the world. Hard liquor is manly, and it makes you manlier. But is there science that supports such a claim? Does alcohol affect your testosterone levels in a significant way?
Alcoholism can harm your health and overall well-being. Long-term alcohol abuse can even lead to deadly diseases like cancer and liver disease. But your hormones can also be affected in a way that affects your health and your ability to reproduce.
Learn more about testosterone and how alcohol can affect it in both men and women.
Testosterone is an important hormone in the human body. It’s especially important in men because it promotes the health and development of male reproductive organs. It’s also produced in the testes, so men have larger amounts of testosterone than women naturally.
However, testosterone is important in both men and women in facilitating muscle and bone growth and preventing issues like osteoporosis.
Too little testosterone can cause sexual or reproductive issues in men and bone and muscle mass loss in women. Too much of the hormone can cause aggression, agitation, balding, body hair growth, low sperm count, acne, liver disease, and more.
But does alcohol cause a significant change in your testosterone levels? Well, the age-old adage that alcohol will put hair on your chest may be based in some truth, though that specific effect may be unlikely.
Moderate alcohol use has shown to increase testosterone levels in men and women. However, in higher doses, alcohol can actually lead to much lower levels of testosterone, particularly in men. Men are affected the most by testosterone because it seems to affect the hormones created in the testes. One study found that drunk emergency room visitors had 45 percent lower testosterone levels than the average person. However, the study also looked at its effect on women and found that it increased testosterone levels in women to be five times higher than average. Since women don’t have testicular testosterone, it can’t be affected by alcohol.
In the short term, these effects will be mild. They may bring on a change in mood, such as causing agitation. But long-term alcohol use and frequent binging may cause long-term issues.
Alcohol has effects on many of the body’s systems. Because it can affect human hormones, it can also affect reproduction in both men and women. Hormones like testosterone are important in the development of primary and secondary sex characteristics, including things that affect your reproductive health. Alcohol affects people the most during development. If you drink, even moderate amounts during puberty, it can have a negative impact on your ability to have children later in life.
Alcohol use and abuse affect men and women differently, but it can have an impact on the reproductive systems of both sexes.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate alcohol use can have adverse consequences on female reproductive function. It can disrupt female puberty and lead to slow growth and bone health. It can also disrupt menstruation, and it can cause hormonal imbalances in post-menopausal women.
Research has shown that drinking during puberty can affect estrogen levels in 12- to 18-year-olds for as long as two weeks after drinking alcohol. Adult women with alcohol use disorders have experienced irregular menstruation, no menstruation, absence of ovulation, and infertility. However, other problems that come with alcoholism like liver disease and malnutrition may also play a role in reproductive issues.
Alcohol can negatively affect every part of the male reproductive system, including the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, and testes. Alcohol’s impact on these things can cause infertility, impotence, reduced sperm count, and the reduction of secondary sexual characteristics like body hair, muscle structure, and body fat percentage. So, in reality, excessive drinking can remove the hair on your chest. Long-term, heavy use of alcohol can lower your overall sexual function and ability to have children.
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If alcohol affects your testosterone, does that mean it can have an overall impact on your level of physical fitness? Most personal trainers know that testosterone and other hormones affect your ability to burn fat, gain muscle, and achieve a level of physical fitness. Both men and women have healthier bodies and perform better in activities with a healthy hormonal balance. Can alcohol throw off that balance?
If you’ve ever tried to follow a healthy meal or diet plan, you may have found that many of them recommend avoiding alcohol for the best results. Of course, that makes sense for beer, which is high in calories and carbohydrates, but what about liquor like whiskey, vodka, or tequila that usually has less than 100 calories per shot? The calorie count isn’t what makes alcohol bad for a diet plan; it’s how your body reacts to it.
When you drink, alcohol goes through your digestive system until it gets to your liver, which acts as a bouncer that’s doesn’t want to let the party into your bloodstream. However, if you drink more than one to two beverages in an hour, it will be more than your liver can handle and alcohol will slip into your blood.
Your body treats alcohol like it’s poison, and with good reason. It’s a psychoactive substance that can damage your body in high amounts. There is also no way for your body to store alcohol, so your metabolism will prioritize the processing of alcohol until it’s cleared from your system. So, everything that can be stored, like fats and carbs, will be. Plus, alcohol often lowers your inhibitions to stay away from unhealthy foods, and you may even crave greasy foods. Chasing a night of drinking with a late-night Taco Bell run can really pack on the pounds.
However, alcohol can also affect your ability to build muscle, particularly in men. Large amounts of alcohol have shown to decrease myofibrillar protein synthesis, which is when your body uses proteins you eat to build muscle. Even if you eat plenty of protein, your ability to convert it to muscle after drinking large amounts of alcohol reduces by 37 percent, according to one study.
Women have few muscle gain issues to worry about after drinking alcohol, but they are still affected by the increase in fat and carb storage.
The problems that are caused by alcohol abuse aren’t limited to testosterone levels, and some can be life-threatening. Addiction can slowly start to take over every aspect of your life, including your health, relationships, and even your finances. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder that’s related to alcohol, there is help available that can lead you into lasting recovery.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 7). CDC – Fact Sheets-Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men's Health – Alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm
Emanuele, M. A., M.D., Wazeman, F., Ph.D., & Emanuele, N. V., M.D. (2003, June). Alcohol's Effects on Female Reproductive Function. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-4/274-281.htm
Frias, J., Rodriguez, R., Torres, J. M., Ruiz, E., & Ortega, E. (2000, July 20). Effects of acute alcohol intoxication on pituitary-gonadal axis hormones, pituitary-adrenal axis hormones, β-endorphin and prolactin in human adolescents of both sexes. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0024320500007025
Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014, February 12). Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088384